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Federal Government Unions to Washington: Walk the Walk on Telework

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor

U.S. President Barack Obama is the nation’s and the world’s top teleworker. While other and lesser Washington officials, state governors and mayors, and most of Obama’s counterparts elsewhere commute from their residences to their offices, legislatures, council chambers and Parliaments, the president walks from his quarters to the Oval Office - with no congestion, traffic, emissions and resulting added risks.
The U.S. federal government employees want that option, too. Seven unions representing them want to see initiatives both longstanding and now underway supporting telework aggressively expanded.
In a letter sent to John Berry, director of office of personnel management, officials said that numerous legislative efforts by Congress and other attempts to increase telework in the government by the unions have yet to prove successful. They cite OPM data indicating that only 5 percent of federal employees currently telework.
The unions have asked the senior federal official to consider these telework-promoting-and- supporting-measures and items:
*          All federal employees and their unions should be made fully aware of what teleworking options are available, and the potential benefits of such programs.
*          Resources should be made available so that federal managers, at all levels, are fully educated on telework policies, and trained as to their responsibilities for granting legitimate telework requests.
*          Management should be encouraged to negotiate telework procedures with the elected representatives of unionized federal workers, thereby providing meaningful employee input into such policies through negotiations.
*          Employees identified as eligible to telework should receive training to maximize their productivity and ensure the success of the program.
*          IT procurement policies should dovetail with the goal of increasing the number of teleworkers. Employees eligible for telework need to have access to the tools needed to expand the programs.
*          Annual reviews of successful teleworking programs should be performed and shared so programs that are working can be replicated.
The unions are seeking involvement in drafting and implementing a proposed federal telework program. They point out that they can provide unique insights into identifying employees that are best suited for telework.
In April, the OPM announced a comprehensive plan to jumpstart agency telework programs. The elements include convening an advisory group of telework program managers to draw on their knowledge and expertise in formulating standards for telework policies, and directing agencies to submit telework policies for review against a set of standards crafted by the advisory group.
Officials also advocate encouraging each agency to establish the position of Telework Managing Officer to ensure telework policies are applied fairly and supported by managers and to provide training to use telework successfully and remove managerial resistance to the practice.
“The benefits surrounding telework are numerous,” said Matt Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a union. “Specifically, the advantages to the government and to taxpayers include generally higher employee performance ratings, lower labor turnover rates, a greater sense of pride among employees and a reduced need for office space.”
“In addition, and as was recommended by the Federal Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health an efficiently operating federal telework program is necessary for continuity of operations in the event of national emergencies and pandemics such as the H1N1 outbreak,” he said. “The benefits to employees include an improved quality of life due to a better work/family balance, reduced carbon footprint, reduced travel expenses, and reduced commute time. We look forward to working with Director Berry to expand telework and educate our membership of the potential benefits and opportunities.”
The Telework Coalition, a Washington, DC-based telework advocacy/educational organization had praise for the unions’ action.
“We welcome the support of the unions in pursuing greater telework acceptance in the federal government,” said TelCoa President Chuck Wilsker (News - Alert) in a statement. “Many previous and current efforts have failed to help the number of federal teleworkers reach its potential.  We would like to also see unions encourage telework among their members in the private sector.”

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Amy Tierney